The 3 Rs: Making Reports Work for You

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Back in the go-go '80s, Thomas Publishing Co. launched a magazine called Managing Automation. As circulation director, I had to learn terms like "supply chain management" and "JIT" (just in time).


Fast forward to the 21st century. JIT reaches the circulation department. Gone are the reams of lined pin-feed reports stacked on a circulation manager's windowsill. No longer do you have to wait 24 or 48 hours to get flash counts on a new business promotion or find out whether you reached your one-year direct request goal for the analyzed issue.


Receiving: Reports are now available on demand, accessible online with the ability to isolate date ranges that meet your needs at the moment. Some publishers have even opted for paperless reports. They are simply posted online. And no longer do you have to settle for a canned package of reports. Many fulfillment houses collaborate with clients to customize the package, eliminating reports not apropos to the publications and tweaking others to provide the data needed so the circulation team and others do not have to wade through superfluous stuff.


Ultimately it is the circulation manager's responsibility to determine what data must be captured and how it is clustered and reported. Fulfillment houses should be flexible yet have experience with many types of products and advise accordingly.


For example, here's a typical easy-to-decipher formula for source coding. The channel/date/effort might be written as E0502R2, meaning the order came from an e-mail blast second-renewal effort in February 2005. The code can be carried out several more digits, perhaps to identify lists within a campaign. Web order source codes usually begin with a "W" but a circulation manager may prefer "W" to represent white mail and that's OK.


Consistency is the key. Then reports can show response by effort as well as total response by channel, and you can compare the effectiveness of each along with the overall cost per order. Just as critical is remembering to put a source code on everything. It is not the data entry clerk's role to create source codes on the fly. And a huge quantity of orders under "miscellaneous" does no good come analysis time.


Reading: Or perhaps this "R" should stand for "researching." You now have a tidy package of reports, an amazing array of data about your subscribers. What can you learn beyond the number of responses to that second renewal or requalification? Possibilities:


* Multiproduct analysis: For multiple products - running the gamut of print and digital editions, online newsletters and one-off sales - in a relational database environment, you can glean who is subscribing to what and to more than one product. The types of reports and analyses in this environment are virtually endless (from drill-down details to executive summaries).


* Aging by source: Being able to look at Paragraph 3B (Paragraph 5 for BPA consumer books) by various demographics, channels and future dates yields invaluable information as to the ultimate success of your efforts. The easier it is to play "what if," the quicker you can adjust your marketing.


* Undeliverables: Got a fair amount of these? Notice a sudden spike in this number? Is there a policy for handling the nixies? What can you do to get that number down?


* Cancellation reasons: First, get the reasons in clear English, not codes. Share the reasons with your editor if they relate to content. If it's a fulfillment-related reason, dig in.


Responding: As automation has made it easier to get the data you need more quickly and efficiently, it also has made it easier for you to put corrective action into play. Let's look at what all you can do:


* Multiproduct analysis: Knowing unique subscribers and who's buying what across the board opens the door for cross-product promotions, combo sales, demographic appending, cross-product renewal reminders and more.


* Aging by source: That "great" list your publisher gave you two years ago turns out to be, alas, a dog. They're not responding to normal appeals. Try telemarketing a few to find out why. Editorial not for them? Can you get a fresher list in the same field so you won't have a dip in that category?


* Undeliverables: Try e-mailing to the postal nixies to get a better address. Maybe you need to review the mail-forwarding copy on your notices. If it's a sudden phenomenon, maybe the printer omitted the second address line that designates the apartment, suite or floor number.


* Cancellation reasons: A major fulfillment-related reason is "duplicate copy." For every subscriber who canceled for that reason, twice as many probably didn't bother if it's a controlled pub. Better to find out now than from an auditor later. You can pull a few of these and research yourself, preferably with a free online query feature. If you then sense a potential problem, you can review merge/purge and deduping procedures with your fulfillment operations to see whether the rules need to be tightened.


Automation is both a blessing and a curse, for nothing replaces the synergistic benefits of an experienced circulation manager and account rep working together to extrapolate and then act on the data now so readily available to us all.


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